When did you get involved in designing golf courses?
I became involved designing golf course first as a consultant in the early 1970’s during my playing career. It was fantastic to be part of many projects, and really, made me to realize this would be a great second career after my prime.
How many courses have you designed?
Gary Player Design has nearly 400 courses around the world on five continents and 37 countries and we have 46 active projects around the world.
What made you want to become a golf course architect?
My son Marc, who operates Black Knight International and all the Gary Player brands, saw the opportunity to create and build one of the top golf course architecture firms in the world. It was as like a new breath of life for me. The Senior Tour was just getting started, but the schedule is not a rigorous as a PGA or European Tour pro. It was a natural transition. I love going out on site visits, getting my hands dirty, and visualizing the potential of a new course.
What is your favourite golf course to play?
There are so many I love. The Links at Fancourt in South Africa is special to me as it hosted the Presidents Cup in 2003. St. Andrews is another dear to my heart because it is the home of golf. Most recently I am so excited about opening a course at Big Cedar Lodge in the United States. It’s a nifty 13-hole short course designed for families and those just learning the game. You can play the whole course in less than two hours. You will see more and more designers and developers building non-traditional courses.
Which of your course designs are you the most proud of? (please provide names)
It’s hard to choose because we have so many. The Links at Fancourt and Gary Player Country Club both in South Africa, Saadiyat Beach Golf Club in Abu Dhabi, Thracian Cliffs in Bulgaria are a few that jump out.
And which hole
No. 9 at the Gary Player Country Club is spectacular. There are plans to change the course and make this hole No. 18 so it can be the finishing hole of the Nedbank Golf Challenge which I am proud to host.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Look around at this beautiful earth! When you get to 81, every day is a good day and waking up in the morning in good health is all the motivation and inspiration I need.
What makes a golf course good?
In my opinion the best courses are the ones that take the environment into account when they are designed and built. I am a farmer at heart. Wasting water by making courses too long is never ideal. When you have a round that takes 6 hours to complete, it makes playing difficult for amateurs to enjoy.
What is the most difficult/challenging thing about designing a golf course?
Technology has vastly improved and brought new efficiencies to the actual design process. We used to do everything by hand, and now we digitize grading plans so that the delivery as well as any modifications along the way, are instantaneous. Finding the right developer to work with is key.
Which type of designs do you like best? Links/woodland/water/etc.
The Links style of golf course is my absolute favourite. Golf began on this style of course so I’m thrilled when that is the developer’s preference.
Is there a certain characteristic which you can recognise your designs by?
Our goal is to make a course that is environmentally friendly and aesthetically pleasing. Using the contrast of natural grasses and indigenous plants can no doubt enhance the overall appeal. But of course, we design our courses to be playable for all levels of golfers and to what developers demand.
Is there a course you have designed that would you like to do over? Why?
At some point, every course needs some sort of redesign or updating as it ages. Whether it is putting in new grass varietals, bunkers, tee boxes, etc.
Is there a certain place or country where you would like to design a course?
Yes. Gary Player Design has yet to design a course in Australia. Once we get there, we will have a course on six continents.
How do you design a course that is challenging for different levels of handicap? Do you for instance take average driving distance into account?
With the technology put in today’s equipment, most people can hit the ball a long way. If the golfer is playing a challenging course it’s their responsibility to play off the tees that best suits their game so they will have an enjoyable round. No sense in a player that drives the ball less than 200 yards to hit off the Championship tees.
How do you design a golf course that is future proof?
That’s impossible. Even St. Andrews has had to make adjustments. Augusta National makes changes every year to improve their course. It’s important to listen to the members, and if a redesign is necessary we are happy to do what they desire.
Do you take the sun and wind in account when designing a golf course?
Absolutely. You must prepare around every factor. Which direction does the sun rise and set? Do we want a hole next a body of water to be effected by the wind? No detail is overlooked.
Do you think a golf course should always start with an easy hole and end with a difficult one?
I like when a golf course starts out with a par 5 that’s not too long. That way, if a player hits a bad shot off the tee or with his iron, he really has an extra chance to get things going and enjoy the rest of his round.
Do you have a dream project?
My dream is to design a course that will be the leader in rounds played across the world, where ever that may be. I love this game, and want to increase rounds worldwide on all courses. Players enjoying your course is so, so important.
What will your next project be (or what is/are your current project(s))?
We have several projects in Vietnam and all around the world from the US to Europe to Asia that are in the design phase. Our next course that will open is the short course I spoke about at Big Cedar Lodge.
Which architect would you like us to interview next? Why?
Our Senior Designers, Jeff Lawrence and Steven McFarlane, are the best in the business. No doubt worth your time for an interview to talk more in-depth about our current projects.